It takes a lot to get me excited about a sales book these days. But that's exactly how I felt after reading The Challenger Sale, a new book filled with groundbreaking research with major implications for all business-to-business (B2B) sellers.
The authors, Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson of Corporate Executive Board, surveyed over 6000 B2B salespeople to determine what it took to be successful in today's business environment. I decided to interview the authors so you could learn more about what they discovered.
JILL: Thanks guys for doing this much-needed research. It supports everything I write about in SNAP Selling, my newsletter and my blog.
MATT: Thanks so much, Jill. We were very excited to get this research out there and are really pleased with how well it's been received thus far.
JILL: In The Challenger Sale, you talk about the 5 types of sales rep profiles you've identified based on how they interact with customers. Can you give a quick overview of each of these?
BRENT: Absolutely. When we analyzed the characteristics of sellers, we found the fit into these groups:
- Relationship Builders. They focus on developing strong personal and professional relationships and advocates across the customer organization. They're generous with their time and tend to acquiesce to what the customer wants, always looking to resolve tensions in the commercial relationship.
- Hard Workers. As their name implies, they show up early, stay late, and always go the extra mile. They'll make more calls in an hour and conduct more visits in a week than just about anyone else on the team.
- Lone Wolves. These reps are the rule-breaking cowboys of the sales force who do things their way or not at all. They don't put notes in the CRM system, don't follow your sales process, build their own collateral, etc.
- Problem Solver: This person is almost a customer service rep in sales rep's clothing. They tend to focus more on getting the last deal implemented than getting the next deal signed.
- Challengers: They're the debaters on the team. They're defined by their tendency to push the customer's thinking. They aren't afraid to share controversial views and are assertive, not just in terms of their ideas, but also when it comes to the commercial details of the sale.
JILL: What surprised you most about your research?
MATT: Jill, I think the biggest surprise for us was which of these five profiles wins and which one loses in terms of sales performance.
In our analysis, Challengers account for nearly 40% of all high performers while Relationship Builders come in dead last at only 7% of high performers.
This flies in the face of conventional wisdom that sales success is really all about building relationships and it's a troubling finding for sales leaders, many of whom have placed their biggest bet on the recruiting, developing and retaining the type of salesperson who is least likely to succeed.
JILL: In your book, you talk about the death of relationship selling. Is it truly dead?
BRENT: That's the single biggest question we get asked when we present this work! Our research does not suggest that relationships no longer matter in sales. Rather, what it says is that it's the nature of the relationship that matters most.
While Relationship Builders treat the relationship as an end unto itself, the Challenger leverages the relationship to gain access-access that they use to push the customer's thinking.
At the end of the day, Challengers are the ones who build the stronger customer relationships because they build relationships founded on business value, not just likeability.
(The rest of my interview with the authors will be on my blog tomorrow.)